China's urban unemployment rate was 4.2 percent at the end of 2008, up 0.2 percentage points year-on-year, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS) said Tuesday.
As of Dec 31, there were 8.86 million urban residents registered as jobless, up 560,000 from the end of the third quarter, ministry spokesman Yin Chengji told a press conference.
Yin said 11.13 million urban jobs were created last year, 11 percent above the government target.
The slight rise in the jobless rate reflected a slowing economy amid the global financial crisis, said Tang Min, deputy secretary of the China Development Research Foundation.
"The figure looks all right, but the real situation could be much more serious, as migrant workers and newly graduated college students were not included in the government count," said Tang.
Yuan Gangming of the Center for China in the World Economy of Tsinghua University described the rate as a "sudden rise." He said the 2008 figure was a reversal of the recent years' declines.
The urban jobless rate fell for five consecutive years, from a high of 4.3 percent in 2003 to 4 percent in 2007.
"The 4.2 percent rate was already a sharp increase, given that widespread job cuts only surfaced in the second half of last year, " Yuan said.
"The unemployment situation was grimmer than shown by the latest figure," he said, noting that migrant workers were not included in the count.
Statistics from the MOHRSS showed that 10 million, or 10 percent of a total of 130 million migrant workers, had returned to their rural homes jobless as of December.
Starting in the second half of 2008, weakening foreign demand has hit companies in the coastal industrial belts where most migrant workers had been employed.
Exports fell 2.8 percent year-on-year to $111.16 billion in December, an acceleration from the decline of 2.2 percent in November.
Yin said that China had reacted in an "active and powerful" way to the employment impact of the global financial crisis.
Local governments have stepped up monitoring job markets and offered free or subsidized training, among other steps, to avert large-scale job losses.
The government will focus on jobs for college graduates, migrant rural workers and urban residents this year, said Yin.
China aims to keep its registered jobless rate below 4.6 percent and provide 9 million new urban jobs this year.
Yuan estimated that the urban unemployment figure could worsen in the first half of this year.
In 2008, the average pension for retired workers climbed to 1,080 yuan (about $158) per month, representing an increase of 110 yuan from the previous year, said Yin.
He said the country's social security fund increased 27.7 percent to 1.38 trillion yuan last year.